Why suburban lawmakers broke ranks on budget, tax hike votes
Their inboxes and social media feeds are jamming with hate mail, but three suburban Republicans say they wouldn't change their votes on a state income tax increase, given what's at stake.
Facing a government implosion and bond rating meltdown during a frantic session Sunday, 15 Republican House members broke ranks and supported Democratic legislation in a 72-45 showdown that could override a potential veto from Gov. Bruce Rauner. A Senate vote is expected Tuesday.
Ten Democrats opposed raising the personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent, a split with their party but a less politically risky move for them than their GOP colleagues.
"To me it was a decision between two bad choices," Geneva Republican Rep. Steve Andersson said. "Vote no and let the state financially collapse and maybe never recover. Vote yes on a tax increase -- something I never wanted to do, and something people don't want to pay."
Feuding between Democrats and Republican Rauner has left Illinois budgetless for two years; the state is saddled with a $6.2 billion annual deficit and owes businesses, vendors and social service agencies billions.
Two other suburban Republicans voting yes were David Harris of Arlington Heights and West Chicagoan Mike Fortner.
"The state is being destroyed financially," Harris said. "We now have a $15 billion backlog of bills accumulating $800 million in interest. That's like putting $800 million in the middle of Arlington Heights Road and setting fire to it.
"Without a budget the bond rating agencies would have rated us as junk," Harris said. "We would be the first state ever rated as junk. It just starts a death spiral. I'm tired of playing chicken with the fifth-largest state in the union and seeing who blinks first."
Fortner, a former mayor, said the $36.5 billion budget proposal was less than the nearly $39 billion spent last year and included reforms such as a government consolidation bill.
"Increasing the income tax has never been my preferred option," Fortner said. But "my balance point was reached. This was a real balanced budget, there were real reductions in spending levels, and sufficient reforms to move forward."
The three Republicans said they expected primary election challenges but weren't deterred.
"I worry about a primary challenge with every election; I always assume there's an opponent," Fortner said.
Suburban Democrats who voted for the budget bill but against raising taxes included Marty Moylan of Des Plaines, Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg, and Sam Yingling of Grayslake.
Assists from the 15 Republicans gave Democrats in volatile districts leeway to defect. But Moylan and Yingling said any legislation without property tax reforms was a nonstarter.
If a property tax freeze had been included, "maybe it would have made a difference," said Moylan, a former Des Plaines mayor. "I don't want to raise taxes on the middle class and working class. This could hurt job creation."
Yingling is concerned about the state's bond rating tanking but hoped negotiations will continue between Rauner and party leaders for a resolution.
"Regressive property taxes are forcing people out of their homes," Yingling said. "As long as they stay in place they'll continue to struggle."